Jewish tradition approaches animals from many perspectives; some are positive and others negative. Let us stay on the positive side and bring a couple of quotations. An example of the positive is found in the Book of Proverbs, “A righteous person takes heed of the life of their beast.” (12:10) Another is found in the Talmud where it says, “A person must not eat before feeding his animal.” (Tractate Berakhot 40a)
Many very important mitzvot (divine commandments) can be classified under the heading of relieving suffering of animals or protection of animals (Tza’ar Ba’alei Hayim). A few of these extensively studied commandments include: Sabbath rest for animals, prohibition of muzzling an ox when working in the field and the ban on slaughter of an animal and its offspring on the same day.
The Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society in its Spring 1992 issue (Number 23), had an article written by Rabbi Howard Jachter entitled “Halachic Perspectives on Pets.” Given all the perspectives that he highlights, no mention is given to the Jewish Law and the mourning of pets.
Two of my favorite texts on Jewish mourning are The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning by Rabbi Maurice Lamm and Death and Mourning: A Halakhic Guide by Rabbi Abner Weiss. I highly recommend these two books. No where do either of these books address the question of mourning practices pertaining to pets.
Since you mentioned in your question the yahrzeit candle, I would like to quote from Rabbi Weiss as to the meaning of the candle. He writes, “A lighted candle is a powerful symbol of the soul’s connection with the body. As the flickering, vulnerable flame is attached to the body, giving it light and realizing its potential. It is for this reason that a candle is kept burning from the time of death.” (p.94)
Rabbi Weiss, when speaking of ‘Yahrzeit Observances’ writes, “A candle should burn in every residence where children observe the yahrzeit of their parents.” (p.166)
It is unmistakable from reading halakhic (Jewish legal) writings that Jewish mourning practices are reserved for humankind. These practices have evolved over the centuries and millennia, and are held in the highest esteem by Jews.
That being said, however, a person’s attachment to a pet, as you mention in your question, a ‘beloved dog,’ can be great and very important.
I am tempted to make mention of inanimate objects in Judaism that we revere and bury in a ceremonious manner, such as sifrei Torah (scrolls), prayer books and tefillin (phylacteries), all containing the name of God. Jewish tradition accords these objects a special place that is not accorded anything else. This is explicit due to reflecting the place of God in Jewish life.
When my daughter and son were young, their pet hamster “Shlumiel” died. Naturally, they were ‘broken hearted’ and we buried the deceased pet. The children wrote notes to the pet that we included as we shoveled in the earth. They were also encouraged to ‘say a few words’ of their love of their hamster.
In no way did I feel that this encroached on sacred Jewish tradition, nor did I feel that they had lost sight of the enormous deference accorded human life (and death) as distinct from the loss of animal life.
While in the process of driving to the Jewish cemetery one day, I noted a pet cemetery where pets were buried in very elaborate funeral ceremonies. I can understand the depth of emotion of losing the ‘family pet,’ however, at the same time there may be a blurring of the place in Judaism of humanity. Everything must be done to preserve our love of human life and not equate human-kind with animal-kind. To do so, may have the undesirable result of losing our Jewish perspective on all life.
I believe that we have established that there is a ‘desire’ or ‘want’ to express your emotions at the loss of your dog. Now, the question is, how do you go about it? You have brought forth two possibilities, ‘yahrzeit’ candle and a memorial service. Some one else looking in Jewish tradition may wish to consider reciting Kaddish (so-called mourner’s prayer), or lead daily worship, donate prayer books or a synagogue plaque in memory of the dog.
Where does it end?